After one half of a human day staring at the words Accident and Emergency painted red on the wall, they appeared to my sleep-deprived mind to spell out ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here’. . .
Friday evening last week I went to my GP (general practitioner) with mild but persistent pains in my chest – I’d been having them on and off all week long. It hurt to eat or even to breathe too deeply. The doctor couldn’t pinpoint the cause and so, wanting to rule out anything wrong with the heart or lungs, sent me to the A&E for more tests. To the hospital I went, girlfriend by my side and book in my hand, thinking I’d have a wait of five or six hours.
It ended up a 13 hour wait to see a doctor – from 6.30 pm Friday evening to 7.30 am Saturday morning – and ne’er a wink of sleep in between. Now I realise that in any A&E department there are going to be backlogs and waiting times of a few hours, but this situation dragged us firmly into the realm of absurdity.
These people do their best with limited resources; I admire their cool and ability to handle stress in the face of aggressive drunks and hypochondriac junkies. But the fact is that it was an extremely quiet night; my girlfriend and I had been expecting truckloads of Friday night drunks. There was talk of popcorn to accompany the entertainment.
No need: there were only two drunks and two junkies in the whole 13 hours we sat there.
The title of this post comes from a seminal moment in the night when I asked a nurse who was taking my blood sample how long more I’d be waiting to see a doctor. One hour, she said (it’ll be grand, she said). Two hours later I went to the desk to ask an administrator why I hadn’t been seen yet. When I said that a nurse had told me (two hours previously) I’d be waiting an hour, the administrator laughed in my face. The insolence of bureaucracy is astounding, sometimes; she was lucky there was a thick pane of glass between us.
Eventually I was seen, diagnosed with nothing more than bad chest muscle pains, given a prescription and sent on my way. We then slept away our Saturday, my girlfriend and I.
As fumingly pissed off as I was at the time (we were near tears more than once), I see, now that a few days have passed, that it was not the fault of the administrators, nurses and doctor who dealt with me. They are hamstringed by their circumstances; understaffed and overworked, dealing with too much bureaucracy, often working with outdated practices and technologies. Their entire IT system was apparently down the whole time we were there, in fact. This is simply unacceptable in a hospital that deals with a catchment area of about 400,000 people.
All of this is because the Irish government has no clue how to effectively manage its healthcare system. Why not take a lesson from the Netherlands, France or Canada, whose health systems are lauded the world over? I realise the same economies of scale may not apply given the population disparities, but only by investigating new methods and implementing changes, however small, will things improve.
The Irish government not too long ago was praising itself for exiting its bailout programme, oblivious to the fact that this means absolutely nothing to the average citizen who faces the same bleak economic outlook as ever.
Successive Irish governments have treated their people with utter disdain, preferring to salvage corrupt and bankrupt banks than to ensure decent healthcare and education systems. They facetiously claim that unemployment is falling, not mentioning that this is because people are emigrating at an alarming rate.
A friend argued, not long ago, that the communist system failed when the Berlin Wall fell, and the capitalist system failed when the banks fell – and were bailed out.
I do not think he was wrong.
Anyone reading this from a different country, please comment and let us know how long you can expect to be waiting for treatment in an emergency department there.